If you are an executive or an employee of a company using Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop technology and find yourself struggling to understand why your company is not achieving the desired outcomes Citrix was purchased to achieve, or why this Citrix-thing seems to be hindering your ability to get your job done, this post is for you.
The first and most important thing you need to know is that if you are not experiencing a consistently good Citrix environment or achieving the outcomes Citrix was bought to provide, stop tolerating it. We manage and guarantee Citrix performance for onsite, hybrid, and cloud deployments for several thousand Citrix users, every day. Average login time: 17 seconds. Longest? 22 seconds.
While the diagram above may be overly simplistic, the point it conveys is none the less pertinent. Citrix customers often don’t realize the functionality gap between what is possible and what they have been able to achieve for themselves, represented by the hashed lines above, often blaming the product itself.
From our own files, 50% of the environments we encounter are not built properly. Lack of proper design, lack of Citrix knowledge, and lack in proper supporting infrastructure are the top three reasons.
Dissecting data gathered from working with Microsoft Terminal Services, now called Remote Desktop Services and Citrix in all its forms (MetaFrame, Presentation Server and now XenApp & XenDesktop) approaching two decades, seeing hundreds if not thousands projects, we have identified some consistent patterns that I want to share to provide some insight into why you may be experiencing some of these challenges, and more importantly, what steps to take to get to the desired outcomes Citrix makes possible for organizations.
Mind you, a lot of this is anecdotal, not a scientifically rigorous study of a fixed data set mined from our data.
Generally speaking, assuming Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop were deployed well initially, there are three different overall experiences organizations experience from post-deployment over time. No matter your path, no matter the brand, any application or desktop virtualization project almost always exposes the foundational weaknesses and IT shortcuts in the design and deployment of the existing network:
- The green line in the chart represents the most common path for the organization that has minimal to no Citrix expertise from the outset and likely does not have a complete understanding of the skill necessary across multiple IT disciplines to have a great experience.
- The red line in the chart represents the most common path for the organizations that have fairly consistent network environments, have taken minimal shortcuts, and some dedicated Citrix expertise.
- The dark grey line in the chart represents the most common path for organizations that have solid network environments and some very good Citrix expertise that fully understands how all of the technologies under Citrix interact in delivering an exceptional end user experience for end users.
A Tale of Three Citrix Experiences
Green Line: Initial build quality is typically around 80% of the way to exceptional (Exceptional involves automatic incident response, self-healing capabilities, patch identification & automation, self-documentation, etc.). From the initial build the environment begins to degrade typically because of two common reasons that typically reach a maximum pain threshold at 12-14 months.
- Local IT staff understands the complexity of the environment and decides not to touch it, ignoring the regular maintenance needs which continues to degrade the experience.
- Local IT staff feels they have enough Microsoft experience to manage Citrix, not understanding the nuances, making configuration changes without a full understanding of the consequences causing a cascading degradation.
The spike straight up represents a Citrix consulting firm being brought in to remediate the environment and leaving upon project completion, starting the degradation all over again, culminating in a parallel Citrix rebuild and upgrade between year 3 and year 5. The hashed lines represent when the quality of the environment degrades to the point that some form of Citrix support is engaged.
Incidentally, stopping this see-saw is one of the reasons Whitehat Virtual Technologies was founded to begin with.
Red Line: The red line follows a similar path to the green line, typically being a better initial build but degrading at a similar rate. The rate of decay is sometimes steeper than that experienced on the green line if the local team can’t help but tinker and explore the environment, or sometimes slower with more experienced talent. The following waves of improvement and decay represent new ideas, applications and feature rollouts that may or may not go as planned. The hashed lines represent when the quality of the environment degrades to the point that some form of Citrix support is engaged.
Grey Line: The grey line is the path we want every customer to achieve. That typically begins with a solid initial deployment with additional automation and optimizations introduced over time continuously improving the environment.
So, How Do You Get Maximum Value Out of a Citrix Environment?
- Make sure the environment is built by someone that has a history of delivering high quality Citrix environments. References should be readily available. They should be doing 10+ Citrix deployments a year at a minimum. If your IT team has never deployed one great Citrix environment, let alone any Citrix environment, the odds of achieving the desired outcomes you want Citrix to deliver for your business in not likely to be realized over time.
- If your environment performs inconsistently or seems to be getting progressively worse, get expert eyes to assist your local team or look at outsourcing management of your Citrix environment to specialists and free your team to areas where they have a stronger skill set.
- While IT may think they know end user workflows, it would be better to spend time mapping the major end user workflows that will be using the environment, sit with them, watch how they do what they do. Talk to them. How do their workflows change at the end of the month? End of the quarter? Year? What is the most intense part of their job? What is the most important part of their job? What does a perfect experience look like? What location are they most effective working from? What end points do they need at these locations to do their job as efficiently as possible?
- Roll the notes from these meetings into modifications of your Citrix architecture and design.
- Survey your end users anonymously. Solicit real feedback, as painful as it can be, it is the only way to get the real picture of how the environment is performing and if you are making a meaningful impact on the business you are supporting.
- Talk to your senior executives and determine what the top five priorities are the business over the coming year and map that knowledge to the list of projects to be completed, prioritizing the ones that impact the key objectives.
- Work to standardize every element of your IT environment, and introduce automation to identify and correct as many issues as possible before end users notice.
- Build anti-virus rules and exceptions into your Citrix environment.
- Establish Citrix specific patching rules, including the private Microsoft patches and automate deployment.
- Deploy a monitoring platform that gives you visibility into your entire infrastructure that understands the unique monitoring needs that Citrix presents.